You want to do right by your tenants, just like they want to do right by you. So it's important to make the rental process as easy and understandable as possible for everyone. In a best-case scenario, your renter will get their whole security deposit back because they've taken such great care of your space. Then, you don't need to make repairs or do extra cleaning before passing the keys along to someone else.
Unfortunately, not all situations play out that way. Some tenants really do a number on a place. Others have had experiences in the past where landlords will try to stiff them out of their security deposit without good reason, so they may be on edge about the situation. You don't need the drama, either way. There are plenty of ways to make sure it all goes swimmingly.
1. Take Stock of Any Issues Before Move-In
One of the most common issues people have is landlords trying to charge them for damage that was already there when they moved in. While it's often an honest mistake, people can take it as sleazy and unkind. Don't be that person. Perform a thorough sweep of the whole place right before your tenants move in so you know exactly what you're working with.
Once you know the intimate details, make a list and file it away with other important paperwork. That way, when your tenant moves out, you can return to your notes so there's no confusion about the state of affairs. You can even communicate the details you're aware of upon move-in so they feel more at ease with the situation.
2. Be Clear About Your Expectations
Usually, a landlord can keep a security deposit for damage to the unit caused by the tenant that exceeds normal wear and tear. What does that mean, exactly? Be clear about it both with yourself and with your tenants.
Some real estate investors recommend creating an itemized list of potential security deposit deductions so tenants have a straightforward idea of what they’re responsible for. For example, removing carpet stains in a quick and timely manner is almost free for the tenant to do on their own, but can cost real money if professionals need to take care of it later. This not only creates a helpful reference point to head off drama, but it encourages tenants to mind small issues that might create headaches for both parties upon moveout.
Even though everyone should read the fine print and understand the specifics, some people don't. Clearing up any confusion can be better for everyone involved. Answer any questions they may have — they're trying to get clear on your expectations, too.
3. Get Specific
If it comes down to it and you do need to withhold some of that security deposit, being specific and open so your tenant feels secure and respected in your communication is crucial. Keeping a big chunk of their security deposit can sometimes feel like you're trying to stiff them, especially if they've had bad experiences before or simply didn't notice the damage they caused.
Telling them why you're keeping their security deposit can help them recognize the fairness of the situation. Rather than calling it a “cleaning fee,” you can tell them the money went to fixing the dark stains on the bedroom carpet and the broken tile in the kitchen.
4. Get It All in Writing
Another important part of keeping part — or all — of that security deposit is having everything documented from the jump. This can help make things feel more official and transparent.
Make sure that when your initial expectations are communicated to the tenant, you leave a paper trail of some kind to look back on and reference. This can be through email, text or official documents. That way, you can pull up your interactions if there's any trouble.
A security deposit is like insurance for you as the landlord, which means you can use it to fix damage your tenants cause. As long as there's communication and understanding, you'll avoid the drama that sometimes comes with security deposits.